Listen very closely to this song, to the underlying rhythms. What’s that sound, the shsh sshh shsshsh?
This mantra is Ide Were Were, from Deva Premal’s album Love is Space. Listen closely. There’s a hint right at the start. Depending on the fidelity of your sound system, you may not recognise it. The sound quality of the video reproduces just enough fidelity to hear it, though the source becomes clear at the very end.
I’ll give you the lyric, the story it tells and some background on Oshun, the West African goddess, while you continue to listen.
Ide Were Were
Ide Were Were
Ide were were nita oshun
ide were were
ide were were nita oshun
ide were were nita ya
ocha kiniba nita oshun
cheke, cheke, cheke
ide were were
“A Yoruba, W. African song that sings of Oshun, the goddess of rivers, seashores, and love, and speaks of a necklace, a symbol of the initiation to Love.”
The Importance of Oshun in Yoruba Culture
According to the Yoruba elders, Oshun [also Osun, Oxum] is the “unseen mother present at every gathering”, because Oshun is the Yoruba understanding of the cosmological forces of water, moisture, and attraction. Therefore she is omnipresent and omnipotent. Her power is represented in another Yoruba scripture which reminds us that “no one is an enemy to water” and therefore everyone has need of and should respect and revere Oshun, as well as her followers.
Oshun is the force of harmony. Harmony we see as beauty, feel as love, and experience as ecstasy. Oshun according to the ancients was the only female Irunmole amongst the original 16 sent from the spirit realm to create the world. As such, she is revered as “Yeye” — the sweet mother of us all. When the male Irunmole attempted to subjugate Oshun due to her femaleness she removed her divine energy, called ase by the Yoruba, from the project of creating the world and all subsequent efforts at creation were in vain. It was not until visiting with the Supreme Being, Olodumare, and begging Oshun pardon under the advice of Olodumare that the world could continue to be created. But not before Oshun had given birth to a son. This son became Elegba, the great conduit of ase in the Universe and also the eternal and infernal trickster.
Oshun is known as Iyalode, the “(explicitly female) chief of the realm.” She is also known as Laketi, she who has ears, because of how quickly and effectively she answers prayers. When she possesses her followers, she dances, flirts and then weeps — because no one can love her enough and the world is not as beautiful as she knows it could be.
I particularly like the passage… “Oshun is the Yoruba understanding of the cosmological forces of water, moisture, and attraction.” Water. Always flowing, ever changing, it clings to all it touches. What cold be more evocative of feminine attraction, sensual arousal, than moisture, especially for an unblushing goddess such as Oshun? “Her power … reminds us that “no one is an enemy to water” and therefore everyone has need of and should respect and revere Oshun.”
Mmmmmmm…. Do you hear the watery rhythms now?
In all the music I’ve ever heard, I can’t think of another arrangement that uses water in this way, to actively create a rhythm with splashes, slaps and rippling, a rhythm as evocatively sensual and beautiful as the goddess it is performed for.